California at Twilight
We keep trying to understand the enigma of California, mostly why it still breathes for a while longer, given the efforts to destroy the sources of its success. Let’s try to navigate through its sociology and politics to grasp why something that should not survive is surviving quite well -- at least in some places.
Conservati delendi sunt
The old blue/red war for California is over. Conservatives lost. Liberals won -- by a combination of flooding the state with government-supplied stuff, and welcoming millions in while showing the exit to others. The only mystery is how Carthaginian will be the victor’s peace, e.g., how high will taxes go, how many will leave, how happy will the majority be at their departure?
The state of Pat Brown, Ronald Reagan, Pete Wilson, and George Deukmejian is long dead due to the most radical demographic shifts of any one state in recent American history -- as far away as Cicero was to Nero. One minor, but telling example: Salinas, in Monterey County where the murder rate is the highest in the state, just -- at least I think the news story is not a prank -- named its new middle school after Tiburcio Vasquez.
A convicted murderer.
He was the legendary 19th-century robber and murderer who was hanged for his crimes. But who is to say that Vasquez is a killer, and Henry Huntington a visionary?
The New Demography
California has changed not due to race but due to culture, most prominently because the recent generation of immigrants from Latin America did not -- as in the past, for the most part -- come legally in manageable numbers and integrate under the host’s assimilationist paradigm. Instead, in the last three decades huge arrivals of illegal aliens from Mexico and Latin America saw Democrats as the party of multiculturalism, separatism, entitlements, open borders, non-enforcement of immigration laws, and eventually plentiful state employment.
Given the numbers, the multicultural paradigm of the salad bowl that focused on “diversity” rather than unity, and the massive new government assistance, how could the old American tonic of assimilation, intermarriage, and integration keep up with the new influxes? It could not.
Finally, we live in an era of untruth and Orwellian censorship. It is absolutely taboo to write about the above, or to talk about the ever more weird artifacts of illegal immigration -- the war now on black families in demographically changing areas of Los Angeles, the statistics behind DUI arrests, or the burgeoning profile of Medi-Cal recipients. I recall of the serial dissimulation in California my high school memorization of Sir Walter Raleigh:
Tell potentates, they live/Acting by others’ action/Not loved unless they give; Not strong but by affection; If potentates reply/Give potentates the lie.
There were, of course, other parallel demographic developments. Hundreds of thousands of the working and upper-middle class, mostly from the interior of the state, have fled -- maybe four million in all over the last thirty years, taking with them $1 trillion in capital and income-producing education and expertise. Apparently, they tired of high taxes, poor schools, crime, and the culture of serial blame-gaming and victimhood. In this reverse Dust Bowl migration, a barren no-tax Nevada or humid Texas was a bargain.
Their California is long gone (“Lo, all our pomp and of yesterday/Is one with Nineveh and Tyre”), and a Stockton, Fresno, or Visalia misses their presence, because they had skills, education, and were net pluses to the California economy.
Add in a hip, youth, and gay influx to the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, and coastal Los Angeles that saw California as a sort of upscale, metrosexual lifestyle (rule of thumb: conservatives always find better restaurants in liberal locales), and California now has an enormous number of single-person households, childless couples, and one-child families. Without the lifetime obligation to raise $1 million in capital to pay for bringing up and educating two kids from birth to 21 (if you’re lucky), the non-traditional classes have plenty of disposable income for entertainment, housing, and high taxes. For examples, read Petronius, especially the visit to Croton.
Finally, there is our huge affluent public work force. It is the new aristocracy; landing a job with the state is like hitting the lottery. Californians have discovered that, in today’s low/non-interest economy, a $70,000 salary with defined benefit public pension for life is far better than having the income from a lifetime savings of $3 million.
Or, look at it another way: with passbooks paying 0.5-1%, the successful private accountant or lawyer could put away $10,000 a month for thirty years of his productive career and still not match the monthly retirement income of the Caltrans worker who quit at 60 with modest contributions to PERS.
And with money came political clout. To freeze the pension contribution of a highway patrolman is a mortal sin; but no one worries much about the private security’s guard minimum wage and zero retirement, whose nightly duties are often just as dangerous. The former is sacrosanct; the latter a mere loser.
The result of 30 years of illegal immigration, the reigning culture of the coastal childless households, the exodus of the overtaxed, and the rule of public employees is not just Democratic, but hyper-liberal supermajorities in the legislature. In the most naturally wealthy state in the union with a rich endowment from prior generations, California is serially broke -- the master now of its own fate. It has the highest menu of income, sales, and gas taxes in the nation, and about the worst infrastructure, business climate, and public education. Is the latter fact despite or because of the former?
How, then, does California continue? Read on, but in a nutshell, natural and inherited wealth are so great on the coast that a destructive state government must work overtime to ruin what others wrought.
Also, when you say, “My God, one of every three welfare recipients lives in California,” or “California schools are terrible,” you mean really, “Not in Newport or Carmel. So who cares about Fresno, or Tulare -- they might as well be in Alabama for all the times I have been there.”